Teaching epistemology etc.

[From Bill Powers (960225) --

Some catching up.

Chris Cherpas (960222.1042 PT) --

     I'm thinking about how to design on-line exercises in the spirit of
     the PCT demos, as opposed to just the usual question-and-answer
     paradigm. Also, as I mentioned in a recent post, I want to teach
     kids epistemology starting in kindergarten (what does it mean to
     know? how do I know? how can I represent knowledge?) and would like
     to start with learning about perceptions and how we control them
     via actions (aka PCT).

Are you sure that kindergarteners are capable of learning these things?
It seems to me that kids are naive realists for most of their young
lives, but maybe you have some information to the contrary. Frans and
Hedy Plooij seem to have found evidence that very young children do
develop rudimentary control systems up to the program level by the age
of 2. However, we don't know much about how the levels develop, or how
the whole system expands at all levels, especially during the school
years.

But I think your idea's great. If you can start simple and build up from
there, you can simultaneously teach whatever control theory has to offer
and find out what children are really able to learn at a given age. From
hearing about Ed Ford's program, I think that the most important thing
may be to teach the principles to the teachers, to encourage them to
take attitudes more consistent with PCT. It doesn't do much good to tell
children about being self-organizing control systems when the people
doing the telling are coercive, manipulative, and generally determined
to control the children. If I have any advice, it's to start by teaching
the teachers -- and the administrators, and the parents, and everybody
else connected with the school that you can get hold of. That's what Ed
Ford, in his genius, does.

Perhaps you can do something with this suggestion: organize the whole
teaching program around teaching the kids what to perceive rather than
what to do. You start at the level where controlling perceptions is easy
and natural, like moving a hand. Then you use those controlled
perceptions as a way of controlling other perceptions. If the goal is
always clear, and not too advanced, the details of the means will almost
develop themselves. Since this is how we learn anyway, a teaching
program that uses the same method ought to work better than one that
doesn't.

     ... the first content area I want this "philosophy for kids"
     foundation to serve is the area of mathematics, specifically, the
     areas of probability, data analysis/statistics, and measurement.

Why? My concern here is that you may be emphasizing a particular adult
interest of your own without determining first whether this is what the
children need (or want, or are able) to know. I am leery of "one-size-
fits-all" education. I think it would be more productive to ask what
capacities a child would need in order to understand the elements of
mathematics as well as other intellectual pursuits, and focus on these
more generally useful skills. After all, some of the children you are
teaching will be better at music or art or sports or car repair than at
statistics and data analysis. Trying to force them all into one mold
doesn't take individual differences into account. I don't think this
works. What you know about these subjects was built on a base of much
simpler skills and concepts, not to mention your own interests; if you
try to start right in by teaching the high-level perceptions without
first building a base of lower-level perceptions, you will fall into the
same error that we saw in the New Math. Most of the kids will memorize a
lot of phrases and have no comprehension of what they mean. The
mathematicians who developed the New Math didn't understand that high-
level concepts like "sets" are self-evident only to a person who has
been through the whole development process that makes them seem self-
evident. What is _logically_ basic isn't what is _developmentally_
basic. But maybe you already know all this.

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Best,

Bill P.